Tag Archives: Rwanda

Kagame: dictator or great leader?

The Globe and Mail’s recent coverage of Rwanda has been schizophrenic. While South African-based correspondent Geoffrey York has done important work detailing how Paul Kagame’s government has assassinated its opponents and contributed to violence in Eastern Congo, columnist Gerald Caplan has justified its repression and echoed Kigali’s position on regional conflicts.

At the start of January York reported on two new books describing the totalitarian nature of President Kagame’s regime. “Village informers”, wrote York. “Re-education camps. Networks of spies on the streets. Routine surveillance of the entire population. The crushing of the independent media and all political opposition. A ruler who changes the constitution to extend his power after ruling for two decades. It sounds like North Korea, or the totalitarian days of China under Mao. But this is the African nation of Rwanda – a long-time favourite of Western governments and a major beneficiary of millions of dollars in Canadian government support.”

A year and a half ago York wrote an explosive investigation headlined “Inside the plots to kill Rwanda’s dissidents”, which provided compelling evidence that the regime had extended its assassination program, killing (or attempting to) a number of its former top officials who were living in South Africa. Since the initial investigation York has also reported on Rwandan dissidents who’ve had to flee Belgium for their safety and revealed that Ottawa failed to act after UN and Spanish court investigations concluded Canadian priests Guy Pinard and Claude Simard were killed by soldiers loyal to Kagame in the mid-1990s.

At the end of 2012 York reported on Rwanda reasserting control over the mineral rich Eastern Congo. In one of a number of insightful articles York described how “Rwandan sponsored” M23 rebels “hold power by terror and violence.” The rebel group added “a [new] layer of administrators, informers, police and other operatives” in and around the city of Goma in part to “bolster” its “grip on the trade in ‘blood minerals’.” (In 1996 Rwandan forcesmarched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead.)

While York has done what investigative journalists are supposed to do — comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — unfortunately the Globe also publishes regular columns by an author who seems to strive for the exact opposite in the case of Rwanda.

Gerald Caplan recently wrote about political conflict in Burundi, invoking Kagame’s rhetoric of “genocide” all the while ignoring Rwanda’s role in organizing armed opposition to the Burundian government. In support of Kigali’s aggressive regional posture, Caplan continues to repeat Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo two decade after the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsi (and Hutu) in 1994. In a 2014 column he wrote: “In the Congo former génocidaires lead a violent anti-Kagame militia dedicated to ‘finishing the work’ of the hundred days.”

In another column Caplan justified the arrest of presidential opponent Victoire Ingabire and criticized the Law Society of Upper Canada after it called for the release of her American lawyer, who was also imprisoned.

And strangely, for a former NDP strategist, Caplan has sought to muzzle media that disagree with the current government’s version of Rwandan history. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story and a year earlier wrote a piece about lobbying the University of Toronto to remove the Taylor Report, a program on campus radio, from air because it hosted critics of the Rwandan government.

Caplan has failed to inform readers about his ties to the regime in Kigali. He started an organization with Rwanda’s current Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo and said he stays at her family’s hotel when visiting the country. Caplan has also spoken at a number of events in Kigali and New York organized by the Rwandan government.

So, who to believe? York or Caplan? Is Kagame a saint or dictator?

My money is on the investigative journalist.

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Canada’s Kagame apologist

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has long been the darling of prominent liberals such as Bill Clinton, Samantha Power and Tony Blair. But, it’s become ever more difficult to publicly back the bloodstained Rwandan dictator.

After two decades in power Kagame recently had the constitution changed so (only) he can keep running for office. Alongside Kagame’s move to stay president for life, the regime has employed increasingly brazen tactics to deter dissent. Extending their assassination program beyond East Africa, in recent years Rwanda has assassinated (or attempted to) a number of former top officials in South Africa.

In Canada Gerald Caplan is Kagame’s leading liberal backer. Last week the former NDP strategist published an op-ed on the political conflict in Burundi, which invoked Kigali’s rhetoric of “genocide” all the while ignoring Rwanda’s role in organizing armed opposition to the Burundian government. For more than a decade and a half Caplan has legitimated Kagame’s authoritarianism, his atrocities during the 1990–94 invasion of Rwanda and repeated invasions of the Congo, which have left millions dead.

Caplan was converted to Kagame’s cause when he was commissioned to write a report for the Organization of African Unity in the late 1990s. At the behest of a Canadian panelist, Caplan largely wrote The Preventable Genocide for the Organization of African Unity Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda & the Surrounding Events. The initiative was reportedly instigated by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and it was partly funded by Canada.

While paying lip service to the complex interplay of ethnic, class and regional politics, as well as international pressures, that spurred the Rwandan Genocide, the 300-page report is premised on the unsubstantiated claim that there was a high level plan by the Hutu government to kill all Tutsi. It ignores the overwhelming evidence (and logic) pointing to Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front as the most likely culprit in shooting down the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and much of the Army high command. This event sparked the genocidal killings of spring 1994. The report also rationalizes Rwanda’s repeated invasions of the Congo, including a 1,500 km march to topple Joseph Mobutu’s regime in Kinshasa and subsequent re-invasion after the government it installed expelled Rwandan troops, which led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003. A decade after the mass killing of Rwandan Tutsi (and Hutu) in 1994 Caplan was still repeating Kagame’s rationale for unleashing mayhem in the Congo. In 2004 the self-described “Africa scholar” wrote, “From Zaire they [Genocidaires] began an insurgency back into Rwanda with the purpose of ‘finishing the job’. Eventually this led to the Rwandan’s invading Zaire/Congo to suppress the insurgency.”

As part of his staunch support for the regime in Kigali, Caplan has sought to muzzle media that question the official version of the “Rwanda Genocide”. In 2014 he signed an open letter condemning the BBC 2 documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. The 1,266 word public letter refers to the BBC’s “genocide denial”, “genocide deniers” or “deniers” at least 13 times. Notwithstanding Caplan and his co-signers smears, which gave Kagame cover to ban BBC’s Kinyarwanda station, Rwanda the Untold Story interviews a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a former high-ranking member of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda and a number of former Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) associates of Kagame. In The Kagame-Power Lobby’s Dishonest Attack on the BBC 2’s Documentary on RwandaEdward S. Hermann and David Peterson write: “[Caplan et al.’s] cry of the immorality of ‘genocide denial’ provides a dishonest cover for Paul Kagame’s crimes in 1994 and for his even larger crimes in Zaire-DRC [Congo]. … [The letter signees are] apologists for Kagame Power, who now and in years past have served as intellectual enforcers of an RPF and U.S.-U.K.-Canadian party line.”

In a more aggressive effort to suppress discussion of Rwanda, Caplan reported in 2013 that he lobbied the head of the University of Toronto to remove the Taylor Report, a program on the University’s radio station, from the station. I asked the then-president of the University of Toronto whether even within the framework of free speech, it was appropriate for the university’s radio station to so blatantly promote genocide denial. He explained that the station had editorial independence but agreed to seek information from CIUT’s then-station manager. He reported back to me that the latter disagreed with my assessment of CIUT’s coverage of Rwanda and would keep The Taylor Report running as it was.”

In criticizing the Taylor Report Caplan complained that host Phil Taylor gave a platform to Robin Philpott who he dubbed “perhaps Canada’s most prominent [genocide] denier.” Caplan claimed Philpot was part of “a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers, who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water.”

But Philpot, who’s written a number of books on Rwanda, countered with an impressive list of individuals who disagree with Caplan’s pro-RPF version of Rwandan history. This includes the former Secretary General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali, head of the UN mission in Rwanda Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, head of Belgian troops in Kigali Colonel Luc Marchal, intelligence officer for the UN mission in Rwanda Amadou Deme, Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina, Belgian historian Filip Reyntjens etc. Philpot writes, “he obviously cannot mention their names because their testimony flies in the face of Caplan’s, simplistic, Hollywood, good-guys-versus-bad-guys version of events.”

Caplan’s “Hollywood” version of the Rwandan tragedy has led him to back the liberal imperialist Responsibility to Protect doctrine and call for more US interventions. In 2013 he co-authored an article titled Genocide: America says ‘Never Again,’ but keeps turning a blind eye and in an earlier interview Caplan complained that “every U.S. President from Reagan to Obama has made grand speeches that declare the words ‘never again,’ and yet each one has allowed some terrible disaster to go unnoticed. Inaction has been the reoccurring theme in all of these administrations.”

While Caplan’s assessment of the Rwandan tragedy has led him to a decidedly non-progressive worldview, complaining about US “inaction” has been good for his career. Caplan has parlayed his writing and activism on Rwanda into gigs with the UN as well as the Globe and Mail and CBC. Caplan also charges a massive speaker fee. According to a Speakerpedia representative, it would cost “$7500-10k USD plus travel from Toronto” to have him present in Montréal. Caplan’s Speakerpedia profile is largely devoted to Rwanda, noting he’s “visited Rwanda more than a dozen times and has written and spoken widely about the Rwandan genocide.”

While Caplan presents himself as defending Africa against the West’s “betrayal”, history will judge his Rwanda work harshly. When Kagame falls it will become clear Caplan has provided important ideological cover to the individual responsible for the largest number of African deaths over the past quarter-century.

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New book provides real understanding of Rwandan tragedy

The Rwandan genocide — think you know the story?

Deep-seated ethic enmity erupted in a 100-day genocidal rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

In Rwanda and the new scramble for Africa Robin Philpot demolishes this version of history.

Philpot points out that while the official story begins April 6, 1994, any serious investigation must go back to at least October 1, 1990. On that day an army of mostly exiled Tutsi elite invaded Rwanda. The Ugandan government claimed 4,000 of its troops “deserted” to invade (including the defence minister and head of intelligence). This unbelievable explanation has largely been accepted since Washington and London backed Uganda’s aggression.

More than 90 per cent Tutsi, the RPF could never have gained power democratically in a country where only 15 per cent of the population was Tutsi. Even military victory looked difficult until International Monetary Fund economic adjustments and Western-promoted political reforms weakened the Rwandan government.

The RPF also benefited from the United Nations Assistance Mission For Rwanda (UNAMIR) dispatched to keep the peace. According to Gilbert Ngijo, political assistant to the civilian commander of UNAMIR, “He [UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire] let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian Hutu President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. A French judge pointed the finger at Paul Kagame and the RPF. But the head of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Canadian Louise Arbour refused to investigate evidence implicating the RPF. When the ICTR prosecutor who took over from Arbour, Carla del Ponte, did look at the RPF’s role in shooting down Habyarimana’s plane the British and Americans had her removed.

Habyarimana’s assassination sparked mass killings (but no planned genocide, according to the ICTR). Five days after Habyarimana’s death an internal US memorandum warned of “hundreds of thousands of deaths,” but Philpot notes, “even though they knew that the massacres would occur and that millions would flee to other countries, the Americans devoted all their efforts to forcing the United Nations to withdraw its UNAMIR troops.”

UNAMIR would have blocked the RPF from capturing Kigali, something Washington supported to undermine French influence and to improve the prospects of North American companies in the nearby mineral-rich eastern Congo.

Rarely heard in Canada, Philpot’s version of events aligns with that of former UN head Boutros Boutros-Ghali, civilian head of UNAMIR Jacques-Roger Booh Booh and many French investigators. Presumably, many Rwandans’ also agree but it’s hard to know as Paul Kagame ruthlessly suppresses opponents, regularly labeling them génocidaire.

Ottawa has supported this witch-hunt. Philpot points to the example of a former Rwandan prime minister denied a Canadian visa: “The Prime Minister of the government that supposedly ended the genocide had now become a génocidaire. Canada had already received Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramngu with all honours in December 1994 when he was looking for funding to rebuild Rwanda under the RPF. Either Canada’s institutional memory is short and selective or, more likely, the country has a policy of supporting the RPF government at all costs.”

This book is an invaluable resource for understanding the Rwandan tragedy and countering those who cite it to justify Western military interventions.

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